Defense dominates as Syracuse cruises

You can’t really put too much weight on games like these but what is clear is that Syracuse has a team with top 5 talent. The Orange’s athleticism was overwhelming for Manhattan as Syracuse cruised to a 92-58 victory.

The most impressive aspect of the Orange’s game was their aggressive defense. They worked in both man-to-man and the 2-3 zone and had active hands in both sets. The Jaspers could never get into an offensive rhythm with the amount of deflections the defense caused. The Orange forced 28 turnovers and had 15 steals and 10 blocks.

The man in the middle of the successful defensive effort was Fab Melo. His most impressive moment of the night didn’t come on any of his 11 points, career-high 9 rebounds or 4 blocks but instead came early in the first half when he managed to quickly shuffle his feet and draw a charge. That sort of quickness and defensive positioning is something we never saw last year when Melo was 30 pounds heavier.

What happened to the sweet and cuddly Melo we thought we knew? He is so much more aggressive this year than last (hopefully he keeps that aggression on the court this year). Most of the time it works to his benefit as he’s attacking rebounds on both sides and going to the rim on offense but there were a number of times when Melo got frustrated with the amount of contact he was receiving. He picked up one foul while lowering his shoulder into an opponent and later swung his arms wildly under similar pressure. As he becomes a bigger part of this team, the opposition is going to look to get him frustrated and as a big man he won’t be getting the majority of calls. This is something he’s going to have to learn to deal with if he wants to stay in games.

In the second half, it seemed like it was Manhattan’s goal to make this game as ugly as possible and Syracuse helped their cause. The Orange took some poor shots and turned the ball over early.But that will happen when a team is playing as aggressive as Manhattan was. The Jaspers tallied 10 fouls just 5:40 into the second half. Syracuse fans were left standing and clapping until they hit their first field goal nearly 7 minutes into the half. I often wonder whether the tradition of clapping until the first field goal is a good thing. It’s a fun tradition for the fans but it can put excess pressure on the players when the clapping continues too long.

Standing for that long caused the fans to get restless but they had their fun later when Mookie Jones entered the contest at the 11:13 mark. 18 seconds later it looked like he was going to pull up for a 3-pointer and the crowd rose with excitement but were disappointed when he made the smart choice of passing down low to James Southerland. It wasn’t until 9:55 that Jones took his first shot (78 seconds before his first shot – this is a stat I hope to keep track of all year long). But Jones made up for lost time with a couple more shots in the next 73 seconds. He finally hit a 3-pointer with 1:47 remaining and the crowd went nuts. It’s things like these that keep the crowd entertained in this type of blowout.

It wasn’t all positive for the Orange. Some of the typical questions still remain and at this point it makes you wonder if these will ever be solved. Is Kris Joseph the go-to guy? He went over 1,000 points for his career last night but he still doesn’t look like a player ready to take over. He was tied for fourth on the team in field goal attempts and largely stayed out on the perimeter. Of course, he did have success out there, nailing 3-of-5 from deep.

Scoop made his typical mistakes (I call them ScOops). He tried to go behind the back on a fast break resulting in a turnover and also turned it over while failing to protect the ball while dribbling just inside the 3-point arc.

And then there are the free throws. The Jaspers put the Orange on the line 25 times but Syracuse made just 15 of those. Melo was the biggest culprit of the problem hitting on just 1-of-5 attempts.

Lastly there was James Southerland. He went 5-for-8 for 15 points and added 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Obviously, this was a great performance by Southerland but haven’t we seen this before? Haven’t we seen him break out and dominate these middling opponents before psyching himself out and disappearing during Big East play? I’m no longer going to get excited about Southerland’s unbelievable potential until I see him do it against a quality opponent.

Overall it was a solid win and good to see the Orange come out and not play down to the level of their opponent. Now their depth will come in handy as they take on Albany tonight at 7pm.